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Bible Commentaries
Jonah 3

Gaebelein's Annotated BibleGaebelein's Annotated

Verses 1-10


Jonah Preaching in Nineveh

1. The repeated commission and Jonah’s obedience (John 3:1-4 )

2. The repentance and salvation of Nineveh (John 3:4-10 )

John 3:1-4 . And now after Jonah’s death and life experience the Word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, telling him to arise and go to Nineveh to preach there what the Lord would command him. And now he is obedient. Jonah arrived in the great city of three days’ journey, and advancing a day’s journey into it he cried out his message, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Following is the objection of higher criticism as to this statement: “If we were reading a historical description the narrative would be full of difficulties. A strange prophet announced the impending destruction as he traveled through the vast city for one day, and the huge population immediately believed and repented. The king, who is not named, heard, put on sackcloth, sitting in ashes. If this were history, Jonah did what no prophet, no apostle, what Christ Himself never did. Never did a day’s preaching bring a vast strange city to repentance. But we repeat, it is not history; it is a story with a meaning, an allegory; it is the great announcement that God cares for the heathen world, and calls it to repentance, and whenever men anywhere repent, His compassion is kindled towards them” (New Century Bible). We reserve the answer to the supposed difficulties in this historical account for the typical unfolding of this event.

John 3:4-10 . The people of Nineveh believed God. The news that a strange prophet had appeared with the message of doom must have spread like wildfire and hundreds upon hundreds must have passed it on so that in a very short time it reached every nook and corner of the great city; it reached the palace of the king and the prisoners in the dungeon. That this is real history has been confirmed by archaeology. For just about that time Nineveh was in great trouble and facing a crisis, which made them eager to believe the message and return to God. They evidenced their faith by a universal fast and humiliation before God. The king laid aside his royal robe and humiliated himself as every one of his subjects did. He issued a proclamation to abstain from food and drink, in which the dumb creation was included. What a solemn time the great city had, when hundreds and thousands humbled themselves and when the lowing and groaning of the domestic animals was heard throughout the city. The people acknowledged all their wickedness and turned away from their evil ways and deeds of violence, expressing the hope of God’s mercy. “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not.” And God answered and was merciful to them.

The Typical Application

1. As to the Lord Jesus. Jonah who typifies in his experience the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord, preached the message as one who had been in a grave and came to life out of that grave. In Luke 11:29-30 ; Luke 11:32 , our Lord makes the application: “For as Jonah was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of Man be to this generation ... The men of Nineveh shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here.” Christ was not preached as a Saviour to the Gentile world till He had died and risen from the dead. The Greeks who inquired after Him John 12:1-50 received no answer. But the Lord spoke of Himself at that time as the corn of wheat which was to die to bring forth the abundant fruit. Christ died for the sins of His people Israel, “for that nation,” but He also died as a member of the nation, from which He came according to the flesh, so that He might rise and become the Saviour of the Gentiles. Christ preached as having died for our sins, buried and risen on the third day, is the true gospel and carries with it the power of God in the salvation of sinners.

2. As to the Nation. The third day is the day of Israel’s spiritual and national resurrection. When that day comes converted Israel will be, according to God’s gifts and calling, a holy nation, a nation of priestly functions, a kingdom of priests. They are then fit to show forth the Lord and His glory, and to bring the message, not of judgment, but of life and glory, to the nations of heathendom. The statement in the New Century Bible quoted above is quite correct in one particular-- that “Jonah did what no prophet, no apostle, what Christ Himself never did”--that never a day’s preaching brought a vast strange city to repentance. And we might add that no preaching today, during this age, can ever bring such results. The case is unique; it never happened again, that a man who was disobedient, who turned against the divine commission, became a castaway, was miraculously preserved and delivered, led a great world city to God and to true repentance. But if we take into consideration the fact that this true history is a prophecy, all these invented higher critical difficulties vanish altogether. When the nation is reinstated in the land, filled with the Spirit, they will fulfill their calling and go forth in bringing the message to the nations of the world. Then Matthew 28:19 will be accomplished. Then and not before will the world be converted, and all the nations will be joined in the kingdom to Israel, His kingdom people.

And as for repenting Nineveh there came a day of joy and gladness, as animal creation in that city ceased its lowing and groaning, so will come the day of joy and gladness for this poor world, “in that day” when even groaning creation will be delivered of its groans and moans.

Bibliographical Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Jonah 3". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gab/jonah-3.html. 1913-1922.
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